Book Review Seeing Like a State

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Date Submitted: 08/17/2012 01:32 AM

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Seeing like a State

How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

James C. Scott

Yale University Press

S.M. Holtslag-Broekhof, MSc

People constantly simplify reality in order to deal with the diverse and complex world in which we live. Even this book review can be seen as a simplification of ‘Seeing Like a State’, from the reviewers point of view. In addition, science, standard measures, maps, inquiries and even our language are all (almost inevitable) simplifications of the reality, which surrounds us.

This following text is a book review of ‘Seeing like a State’ by J.C. Scott. The black text can be read as one separate whole. It forms a summery of the book. The blue text regularly interrupts this summery. This text is a personal reflection on the book, using the different concepts that we worked on during the course ‘State of the Art of practices in Spatial Planning’.

State projects of Legibility and Simplification

In ‘Seeing Like a State’, Scott pleas against high modernistic (state) views that can be found in various practices all over the world. To explain how and why these high modernistic schemes fail to become successful, Scott uses examples of failed modernistic projects.

The 19th century scientific forestry in Germany is the first example and metaphor that Scott uses in his claim against high modernism. For the first time the forest was seen as a production area. With the intention of intensifying timber production, large monocultures of Norwegian spruce were planted in straight lines. At first sight, the production seemed much more efficient, and the project was valued as being successful. However, after some years of large profit, the production went down due to a large reduction in diversity of insects, mammal and birds in the area. The absence of ecological diversity and the absence of rotting wood impoverished the soil. Moreover, a monoculture is far more vulnerable for pests and parasites than a poly culture....